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Completions In Europe: A log jam- but there are ways around it Boom-time for business jet manufacturers goes on unabated across the board and the industry has never before experienced such a glut in orders- particularly for oversized VVIP corporate aircraft. This has led to a shortage of capacity worldwide in the completions industry- which is being exacerbated by a lack of skilled labor and an unprecedented demand for the raw materials. The two major European completion centers- Jet ...

Mike Vines   |   1st January 2008
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Completions In Europe:
A log jam- but there are ways around it

Boom-time for business jet manufacturers goes on unabated across the board and the industry has never before experienced such a glut in orders- particularly for oversized VVIP corporate aircraft.

This has led to a shortage of capacity worldwide in the completions industry- which is being exacerbated by a lack of skilled labor and an unprecedented demand for the raw materials. The two major European completion centers- Jet Aviation and Lufthansa Technik- are stacked out with widebody VVIP work- and are busy for the next five or six years.

Wait times for smaller business jets are particularly affected- according to many in the industry- even though Cessna outfits all its own cabin interiors on-site- and Embraer is planning to do the same for its Phenom range. Large VVIP aircraft are very often in the hangar for a minimum of nine to 12 months- and therefore tie-up labor.

The first Boeing 747-8 completion signed with Lufthansa Technik will be in the hangar for a maximum of 18 months says the Hamburg-based company. You can bet the first VVIP A380 (completion center not yet announced) will take around the same time or possibly even longer. And this long completions time-frame is actually slowing further sales of these large aircraft. In a move to shorten waiting times- Airbus has opened its own completions center in Toulouse- France- to take some pressure off the industry- and Lufthansa Technik is recruiting locally and training more of its own specialists.

Lufthansa Technik is at maximum stretch according Walter Heerdt- senior vice president- sales and marketing. He is on record saying “not much more extra work can be handled between 2009 and 2013.” To meet demand Lufthansa Technik is to revive its second widebody completions line at Hamburg by 2010- but it warns that even this won’t satisfy current world demand. Its VVIP orderbook is astonishing and includes 13 A318 Elites- two A330-200- and 17 Challenger 850s for Bombardier. At the moment Lufthansa Technik has nine aircraft in its hangars for completions or major modifications; one Boeing 747-300- one BBJ- two A318 Elite- and five Challenger 850s (the Challenger 850s are part of the 17 ship Bombardier order).

Arch rival Jet Aviation’s completions center at Basel has signed nine wide-body contracts and Letters of Intent since EBACE2007 last May. These orders consist of two A340s- four BBJs- three Boeing 787 Dreamliners- and it still plans to complete 20 green Dassault Falcons annually as well. Jet Aviation estimates that each ‘green’ Dreamliner will take between 15-18 months to complete.

Fokker Services- part of the giant Netherlands Stork Aerospace Group- became involved in VVIP completions work after it started pulling Fokker 100 airliners out of desert storage a few years ago- and converting them to very desirable corporate aircraft. Earlier this year Fokker Services became an approved Airbus completion center - and it has already finished an Airbus ACJ- and is now working on its first A318 Elite. It has also been contracted to complete its first Airbus A321.

Fokker Services Business Development manager Peter van Oostrum says that his company has turned away business. “Space is a bit of a problem-” he explained- “but the main problem is the availability of suitably qualified people. However- the company is fortunate in having a thriving super yacht completions business close by one of our facilities. We have been able to make use of some of their expertise in the past which has been of some help to us.”

Van Oostrum added that 2008 completions are sold out. “We do have some space in 2009- but realistically that space will be taken up by parties we are negotiating with at the moment. It is not until 2010 that we will have some real availability-” he said.

Expanding for business
The giant Switzerland-based RUAG Aerospace company acquired the TSA Transairco business aircraft maintenance/FBO at Geneva (from Pilatus) earlier this year and could be planning to expand more into the completions business. The company has a very active business jet maintenance facility at Oberpfaffenhofen (the old Dornier factory airfield) near Munich- Germany- where it runs the largest Cessna Service Center outside the U.S. and also maintains many of Bombardier’s range of aircraft- plus some Gulfstreams.

At Oberpfaffenhofen the company has also completed interiors on most Cessna aircraft types and on some Bombardier Challengers. Given that its new TSA arm at Geneva is a Falcon Service Center- it doesn’t take much working out that the company is well positioned to take on more completions work.

Andreas Biel- RUAG’s vice president- Human Resources and Communications manager- says- “The strategy for completions is currently under review and will be finished shortly”. He added that his company depended on the capacity of its engineering staff and needed more skilled completions fitters- but they are in very short supply.

RUAG has considerable refurbishment experience on Citations- Challengers- CRJs- the Global Express- Gulfstream 550s- the Embraer Legacy- PC-12s and all Falcon types- and on the completions side the company has completed new interiors in Bell helicopters- Challengers- and on most of the Cessna range of business jets to date.

“We are in a state of transformation-” revealed Biel. “We’re not over-booked on completions because we have been concentrating on other work”. He’s not joking- the $-billion company has just completed the transformation of a standard Gulfstream G550 into a HALO (High Altitude and Long Range Research Aircraft) for the German Aerospace Center- the DLR.

Meantime- according to reports- Basel-based AMAC Aerospace is preparing to open a new business aviation completions refurb and maintenance center this summer at Basel Mulhouse-Freiburg airport. Founded by former Jet Aviation CEO- Heinz Kohli- the facility will be close to Jet Aviation’s massive completions center. Construction of the first of three hangars is due to start early this year. One of them will be large enough to house widebody airliners- while the other two will be capable of housing BBJ and ACJ sized aircraft. The largest hangar is scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2009.

Finding the shortcuts
The would-be private owner of even a smaller luxury business jet is finding it difficult to get his hands on an aircraft inside three years unless it was ordered at the program launch to come complete with its interior. Even then it could mean a two or three year wait.

To beat the waiting times some potential owners are scouring the like-new used aircraft market and plan to either use the aircraft in its existing form- or refurbish the interior during the aircraft’s next major service down-time.

The managing director of one European completions center advised thinking very carefully about the chosen interior. “It very much depends on the interior specification of the aircraft- it can take up to 40 weeks to design and plan a completion for a used Challenger 604 sized aircraft- get it right and it can reduce the actual fitting time to between eight to ten weeks.”

One completions short cut is offered by UK-based Action Aviation which is the exclusive sales and distribution company for what is known as Project Phoenix. This project plans to bring together all the relevant services a customer needs to get a luxury business jet into service quickly.

Here- pre-owned Bombardier CRJ-200 regional jet aircraft- already sourced- will be converted- in Canada- from 50-seat airliner configuration to luxury VIP jets seating 12 to 19 passengers- at a ballpark figure of $17.9 million per unit. The idea- launched at the Dubai Airshow- comes from Dubai-based Mike Cappuccitti president of Project Phoenix Ltd. which has partnered with Aerospace Concepts Ltd. of Montreal- Canada.

The first letters of Intent for two Project Phoenix aircraft have been received from Kanyan Capital- on behalf of Opus Capital- a Dubai-based private equity company. Deliveries are set for September and November this year- which is a considerably quicker delivery time frame than if the client had ordered an aircraft from new.

Both aircraft will be operated by ExecuJet Middle East. Another letter of intent has been received from Ritz Pacific Ltd for Jet Asia Macau- one of the biggest private jet operators in Asia.

In addition- Embraer’s $42.95 million Lineage 1000 VVIP corporate jet also offers a way round the completions log-jam. Based on the very successful E-190 airliner- it has a short production backlog of around 12 aircraft- and comes complete with its cabin already outfitted. The first aircraft is currently being completed in the US and is due to be delivered in the second half of 2008.

Another quick route to service is via 328 Support Services of Oberpfaffenhofen. This company offers the out-of-production Dornier 328Jet as a very attractive corporate aircraft- known as the Envoy 3 in its luxurious 14 seat configuration. Two aircraft are currently in process with the first of these due for delivery by July. 328 Support says that completion takes around six months and seven months if the extra conforming fuel tank is fitted.

As World Aircraft Sales Magazine went to press- a spokesman for 328 Support said that he expected another order from the UK imminently. That aircraft would have extended range- and be fitted with a steep approach landing facility (which will make it the second so fitted) enabling it to operate into London City Airport. There are also more aircraft available for conversion he confirmed.

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